Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lego My Birthday

Number One Son turned nine years old on Saturday. Almost a decade. Where does the time go? We planned a trip for him and a friend to the Mall of America for his birthday. What nine year old wouldn't want to risk life and limb at a carnival park and go to Lego Land?

We got up bright and early on Saturday (8:30am) and got ready to go to the 'Mall'. The MOA has an indoor amusement park formally known as Camp Snoopy. It is now the Park at the MOA because they didn't want to pay Charles Schulz's family any more money. Anyway, we got there and bought our all-day wrist bands. Lady Di, in a moment of fiscal awareness, suggested that we save some money and not buy her a wrist band. This had less to do with frugality and more to do with Lady Di's sheer terror of any rides faster than the carousel.

Since we arrived at 10am the park was emptier than usual. There were virtually no lines for rides and the kids and I could ride multiple times in a row. The best ride is called the 'Twister'. It is a roller coaster which has a four seat car that spins as it rolls along the track. The last time we were here was about a year and a half ago. What a difference that made. N1S was just a little too short for the really cool rides then. Now, he and his friend, sought out only the most terrifying rides and laughed when Sweet Pea's more tame rides were mentioned.

"I am not going on the Merry-Go-Round.", he firmly stated.

At noon we dragged the kids away from the 'Log Chute' to eat at the Rain Forest Cafe. It was pretty cool. It was decorated in rain forest trees and animals, of course. It had multiple gigantic fish tanks with large colorful fish. Every once in a while the lights would dim and thunder would rumble through the restaurant. Some animatronic monkeys would chatter and move at random too. I know they were robots, but I think one of them stole a few of my fries. N1S mentioned his birthday to the staff and they brought out a 'Volcano'. Three chocolate brownies stacked around a mound of ice cream topped with a sparkler. Pretty cool.

After lunch we spent some time ($$$) in Lego Land to settle our stomachs before our second round of carnival rides. In the afternoon, I took Sweet Pea on all of her rides and Lady Di watched the boys take on the big ones.

We got home in time for a late supper and straight to bed. The kids were exhausted and so were we. It was a lot of fun though. I hope we can make it back this winter. N1S and I can ride the cool rides and Sweet Pea can coax Lady Di onto the Lil' Shaver coaster.

The next day we let N1S open a couple of presents. He got a cool piggy bank from Gramma Bev and Grampa Ray. Complete with coins. And a Batman Lego set from us. This should keep him busy for a few days.

Now, all we have to do is start planning N1S's classmate party in a few weeks. Since he has a summer birthday, we thought it would be OK to have another party and invite some of his new 3rd grade classmates. It will be a pirate party. I am converting the kids' clubhouse into a pirate ship and Lady Di is getting costumes and other decorations ready.

So, how many birthdays does a kid really need? I guess when family lives far away and calendars are so busy, any day can be a birthday celebration. Heck, it's gotta be someone's birthday somewhere. As long as there is cake, I will be there.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Watch Where You Walk

Today we went to the 'Great Minnesota Get Together'. We went to the State Fair in St. Paul. The weather was perfect for fair going today. It was sunny, seventy-five degrees and no humidity. We also did something different this year. Since the fairgrounds had lost one of it's largest parking lots and since gasoline is a gouge and a half per gallon, we decided to take the bus to the fair. We had never done this before. Normally, we would get in the car, drive through Minneapolis and St. Paul traffic and then circle the fairgrounds trying to find the homeowner charging the least to park in his yard. And since my parking price threshold is rather low, we would end up walking 10 or 12 blocks after parking and already be a little tired and cranky before even buying our first Pronto Pup.

This year we drove to a local mall parking lot for express bus service to the fair. It was $5 for each of us round trip. It was a little more than I usually would pay but it was worth it to arrive at the fair stress free and to actually doze off on the return trip. Plus, buses get to use the shoulder, so a 20 minute trip by bus would have been an hour and half by car through rush hour traffic.

When we got to the fair we went to the Baby Animal Barn. This was the biggest hit of the trip for the kids. We got to see a calf, some chicks and a few other baby animals.
We saw a baby lamb.

We saw baby ducklings.

And a couple piglets.

After that we walked around a little to see what was in some of the buildings. We didn't see too much because Sweet Pea was always breaking free of us and darting into the crowd. We did find a booth selling homemade princess dresses and accessories. It was tough getting Sweet Pea away from that one.

At lunch time we made our way to the Epiphany Church Dining Hall. I know, only senior citizens go to church dining halls. We go for two reasons. One reason, I've mentioned before. I'm cheap. We usually get more for our money from the dining hall. The second reason is, my stomach isn't twenty years old anymore. I no longer can digest onion rings, a brat with the works and a deep fried Twinkie all in the same day without hospitalization. And I just like church dinner food.

I have nice memories of going to the South Dakota State Fair when I was young and we always ate at the Lutheran Hall. I'm sure my parents took us there for one of the same reasons that I go there. Let's say I've inherited my frugality from them. But they also went there with their parents and it's tradition. Plus, back then there weren't as many food vendors or choices and the church hall was one of the best the fair offered.

After our chicken and meatloaf dinners, (Sweet Pea informed me that only old people eat meatloaf) we ventured off to find more fair fun.

We found Lady Di's cousin working at a food booth and visited with him. His booth just happened to be in front of the Sweet Martha's Cookie stand. Hmmm.....coincidence? We got a bucket of cookies on our way out at the end of the day.

We then walked around looking at some of the 4-H expos and took a lap around the Education building. We got the kids' picture put on a calendar and they each got a couple fans, pencils and rulers. We usually skip the Midway because they still don't accept Monopoly money and we cannot afford it otherwise. Besides, we are taking N1S to the Mall of America Park later for his birthday.

It doesn't sound like we did a whole lot but we sure did a lot of walking. About five hours worth. The kids got tired and went into complain mode. Sweet Pea wanted me to carry her which I haven't been able to do for about a year and a half. This made us skip a few of our regular stops. We didn't visit the All-You-Can-Drink Milk for a dollar booth.(I can remember when it was 50 cents--old man talking). We also cut short our visit to the Home Improvement building. I don't know why the kids find that building so boring. We will have to wait until next year to see the butter sculpture of Princess Kay of the Milky Way too. Sweet Pea perked up when we got close to our last stop of the day, the horse barn. Her eyes lit up as they were unhitching a team of miniature ponies from a wagon. There were eight black ponies about the size of St Bernards with little yellow rose buds braided into their manes. She thought they were so cute until two of them answered nature's call while we were watching.

We then headed for the bus ride back home. For me, this was the perfect ending to our afternoon. I didn't have to drive in rush hour traffic and we would get home twice as fast.

Next year we are definitely taking the bus to the fair again. We may not be taking the kids though.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Roughing It

Last weekend we went on our first family camping trip. Some friends of ours invited us to go camping with them, so we thought it would be safe to go with someone who knew what they were doing.

Lady Di was in charge of the packing. Since she is more prepared than a Boy Scout, she made sure we had everything plus two kitchen sinks. We loaded up an RV we borrowed from our other friends and hit the road.
Fifteen minutes later, we were at the campsite. Did I mention the campsite was very close to our home. Just in case we had forgotten a necessity or two. I didn't want to be stranded in the wilderness without a proper DVD to watch.

We arrived at the campsite ahead of our friends, so we set up our camp. Lady Di unpacked the food, set up chairs, and brought out bags of art supplies and games for the kids. I think she even chopped some firewood and chased a grizzly away. The kids and I hopped on our bikes and raced to the lake. Sweet Pea wiped out on her bike two minutes into our stay. Two band aids later and we were racing down the bike path to the lake. Lake Independence has a long sandy beach. The kids and I had fun throwing stones into the lake. I tried to teach the kids to skip stones. The kids were more interested in finding the largest rock to make the largest splash. We then found the playground and the kids played on a zip-cord. The zip-cord had a cable connecting two platforms with a hand grip which rolled along the cable from platform to platform. Like something you would use in an action movie when the hero throws a sock on each side of a rope and slides down to safety from a burning building.
We biked back to the campsite where Lady Di had the RV ready and snacks out. The kids then played in the woods while I put up a tent. This tent was new to me and I was just as surprised as Lady Di when I finished and it actually looked like a tent and didn't collapse immediately.

Our friends showed up later that afternoon and we had a cook out and bonfire complete with smores. And nobody got a flaming marshmallow stick in the eye. We all retired to our campers to get some sleep for all of the swimming we were going to do the next day.

The next morning brought a light mist with it. It was overcast and cold. The kids played in the woods and found enough mud to cover themselves from top to bottom. After a couple hours I went into the trees to call the kids back for lunch. They all came back except Number One Son. He wasn't in the trees anymore. He was in another campsite posing for a picture with six or seven other kids. He had made some friends and their parents were taking a group picture with him in it. I asked if they had an extra kid and they said, "Take your pick."

After lunch, the rain really started to pour. I thought to myself, "What would survivorman do if he were stuck in the middle of Minnesota, in the rain, with nothing but a fully stocked RV?" I guess he would grab some snacks and play cribbage until the rain stopped.

Since it was raining cats and dogs, the Moms decided to do some of their 'camping' at the local Target store. "We'll be right back.", we heard over the squealing of mini-van tires. I didn't know tires could squeal in mud. The Dads were left with four young campers with sugar highs and cramped quarters. A short five hours later the Moms returned. To their credit, they did drop their Target bags immediately to free the Dads from the stake that the kids had tied them to. It was lucky that the firewood at our feet was still wet from the rain.

Well, the rain did not stop all day. It continued into Sunday as well. We cut our camping trip a little short due to the weather, packed up, and went to Perkins for brunch.

Swimming in the lake kinda got rained out but we still had fun. The kids got to do art projects and watch movies. They got to explore the woods and went on leaf and pine cone hunts. We got to relax, eat and visit. Plus we got to sleep in a rockin' camper. For some reason, even every day things are always better in a camper. We would like to thank our friends for inviting us. We also want to thank our other friends for the RV loan. In spite of the weather, it was a great weekend to celebrate Lady Di's recent achievement. Stay tuned for more on that.

So to sum up, I would highly suggest camping to anyone who is interested in getting back to nature and roughing it. All you have to do is:

1. Get a camper
2. Plug in your portable DVD player
3. Go to Target to shop
4. Go to Perkins for brunch.

That is all there is to camping. It's not so hard. I don't know why people think camping is so tough.

This was the 'grizzly' that kept us up all night. (snoring)

Monday, August 13, 2007

I'm Melting!

Well, this has definitely been the summer of the ninety degree day in Minnesota. Adjectives like blast furnace, sauna, tropical rain forest, Death Valley and H-E-double hockey sticks have been thrown around with much frequency. We are not used to this kind of heat for so many days. When the humidity index hits three digits we have to run to the supermarket and dive under the broccoli sprayers to keep cool. Our thick Scandinavian blood just doesn't flow fast enough to reach all areas of our anatomy. Mainly the brain. My blood flow to the brain must have been extra sluggish lately, as we recently purchased a swimming pool.

All of this Sahara type weather was starting to make me delirious. I was hallucinating an oasis in the backyard regularly while mowing the brown carpet that used to be grass. During one of these sweat induced dreams, I envisioned an Olympic sized, in-ground, lap pool with high dive and hot tub. What I could afford was a fourteen foot inflatable ring pool with deluxe three step ladder.

Oh well, it doesn't matter what size the pool is, just as long as the water is wet. Right?

Anyway.......A couple weeks back I had time to take the pool out of the box. I found a good level spot and spread the pool out. I found the valve to inflate the ring on top of the pool. I didn't have the right connector so I tried to blow it up myself. After ten minutes of no progress and a lightheaded, dizzy feeling, I staggered to the neighbor to borrow the right valve. After inflating the ring, I put the filter pump together. It took me a while to realize that the instructions were indeed in English and were indeed for my pump. Let's just say I used the 'trial and error' method for most of the assembly. Luckily for me, the parts that were left over didn't look too vital.

So, with the pump assembled and the ring inflated, the only thing left to do was to fill it with water. Sweat Pea (the fish) was very excited for the new pool. She was also very helpful with the set up. From the beginning, as I was opening the box, she was there with words of encouragement. "Can I swim yet? Is it almost ready?"

Her excitement took a big jump when the garden hose was actually place inside the ring. Then the jubilation doubled as I turned on the water.

"I just can't wait to swim!!", she sang. "Can I get my swimsuit on?"
"Well, it might take some time to fill the pool.", I told her.

She wasn't really listening so I went in to fix supper. She held the hose for about an hour before she realized the pool would probably not be filled by bedtime. It also took a few days of ninety degree weather to sufficiently warm the water enough to keep blue lips and chattering teeth away. It takes a lot of sunshine to warm that much water.

Well, it doesn't have a diving board, water slide, or water cannon. It's too small for floaties, water volleyball or even Marco Polo. It doesn't even have a heater. But the kids sure have fun swimming in it. They share a squirt gun in the pool. I don't know why they share one, because we have about a dozen squirt guns in the garage. They also share one snorkel to explore the interesting leaves and bugs that have met with misfortune at the pool's floor. Dad also likes to get a good run at the pool and...........Cannonball!!! Our pool may not be Olympic sized, but it sure does the trick to cool us Minnesotans off on a hot day.

Who knows, maybe we will put a couple nets on it this winter and practice some ice skating and slap shots. That's something were a little more used to around here.

Although, N1S is a miracle child to us, he really isn't walking on water in this picture.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Emeryisms Part Two

Little Sweet Pea may only be five years old, but she has talked enough to pass right by her nine year old brother. I sometimes ask her if her mouth ever gets tired. It's no wonder that she says yes. One of the benefits of having a talkative child is enjoying the clever, funny things she says. I don't have a particular story, but here are a few of her most memorable utterances.

As we were driving past a lake, her brother Ethan said, "Look at all the algae on that lake."
Emery authoratively answered with, "No Ethan. It's allergy on the lake."

While reading a book about jobs, we came across a page about a beekeeper. Emery asked what a beekeeper does. "A beekeeper keeps bees and takes their honey to sell", I replied. "Oh, do they squeeze the bees?", she inquired.

We also read a different story about bees pollinating flowers. Emery asked why the bees liked flower polish.

We were attending a retirement party for a friend of ours who was a nurse. Ethan asked, "What does O/B mean?"
Emery answered, "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

When Emery was told there would be no snack tonight before bed, she wailed, "But I only got none!"

Emery said, "When I grow up I don't want to have any babies. I only want two kitties and a possum."

On a recent road trip, Emery saw a lot of mordacycles.

Emery's, Uncle Tom, had some wiring chewed up by mice at his house over the winter. Emery said, "Maybe the wires were yellow and the mice thought they were made of cheese."

The names of the three fish, Emery has had as pets. 1. Scraps 2. Nellie 3. Lovable Heart. Unfortunately all three fish are no longer with us.

When playing with Ethan's slot car race track, she got mad when Ethan had her 'troller'. (controller).

I was telling Sweet Pea that it was late and we had to go indoors for bed. She said, "Yup. The crickets are cricking."

At the supper table we were discussing what to be when we grew up. Emery said, "When I grow up, I want to sell watermelons."

Sweet Pea often has trouble staying in bed at bedtime. After the 34th time of telling her to go back to bed, in frustration she calls out, "I just don't know how to sleep."

When explaining what to do if you are on fire, she said, "First, stop, drop and roll. Then get the fire exstinglicker."

Emery observed Ethan's swim trunks as he jumped into the water and yelled, "Inflatable pants!" I think she got that one from a cartoon.

That's all I can remember for now. If I can remember to write things down when she says them, I can usually get a few pages per week.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Potter time!

Last weekend N1S and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie. N1S has never been this excited to see a movie. Even his all time favorite movie, Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith, didn't generate this much begging and pleading. Two weeks ago I finally promised to take him to see it. He has never counted down the days so intensely. He was using math and everything. He was counting down the days every which way. How many days left, how many past, how many even numbered days left. He didn't even count this much for his birthday, summer vacation or Christmas. I also got a lot more chores out of him. It's amazing how the right motivation will inspire a child.

So the magical day finally arrived. "Which time are we going to, Dad?", he asked. "Because it shows at 12:00 and 1:00 and 3:45 and 5:15 and 7:10 and 9:05. Do you want to know the times of five other theaters in our area?", he excitedly offered.

We chose the 1 o'clock show. Then he said, "It's at the IMAX, right?" I tried, half-heartedly, to convince him to see it on a regular sized screen to save a few bucks, but N1S knew what he wanted. He wanted IMAX, and he wanted a 3-D experience. Just like the television commercial told him. I guess I kinda wanted 3-D too.

I have to say, it was worth it.

The big screen and the 'seat vibrating' speakers were great. The last 20 minutes of the movie was in 3-D, and that was pretty cool too. There was a lot of flying, falling and breaking stuff. I told N1S that he could tell me if he got too scared. The only scary part for him was when Harry and Cho kissed. N1S reached over to cover my eyes. He jumped once in his seat but he told me it wasn't scary. Just too loud. We both thought the movie was great. I wished some of the action scenes at the end would have been longer. The book is pretty long so the film just briefly touches on most of the themes. The movie would have been quite long if the whole book was used. I guess they always want to leave you wanting more.

And N1S wanted more. As we walked out of the theater, N1S asked if we could buy tickets for the next showing. He wanted, not only to see it again, but to see it again now. I told him I'd have to save up some more money and maybe in a few months I could afford another IMAX movie. The popcorn alone costs as much as a steak in a regular restaurant.

I suppose now I will have to deflect the countless requests for Harry Potter merchandise. Things like the Harry Potter action figures, legos, cereal, pajamas, cologne, arthritis balm, etc. We have the books and I think that is enough for now.

It's pretty rare that we get to see two movies in two weeks, but I guess this was special. Who knows when we will get the chance to see a Harry Potter movie again? In a year or two I suppose.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


This last week you probably heard of the Interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Watching the destruction on the news, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It looked like a paper bridge that had gotten wet in the middle and simply melted into the river.

I was sitting at work when the radio cut in with the news. I had to convince myself that it wasn't a hoax. It sounded like something that might happen in an action movie. Not on I35W. 35W is one of the busiest roads in the Twin Cities. Almost everyone who lives in the area has driven on that bridge multiple times. I heard around 140 thousand cars cross that bridge daily. The collapse happened around six o'clock in the evening, which is the back end of rush hour traffic.

Many cars plunged into the Mississippi River and it's banks. I haven't heard a final death count yet, but it looks like it could have been much worse. A school bus full of children were bravely saved by a quick thinking twenty year old who got all of the children out through the back emergency door.

Emergency crews did a good job getting people the help they needed. Now recovery crews are working quickly to investigate the debris and get cars out from under the bridge. It's unfathomable, the amount of concrete and steel that will have to be removed from the river. I don't know how the engineers will accomplish the clean up and building of a new bridge over the river.

Over the next weeks we will hear about a lot of heroes. We will hear many stories of survival and close calls. A lot of prayers will go out to the victims' families, the emergency personnel, and everyone who was involved with the rescue effort. It will be a long time before the cause of the collapse is found. It will be a long time for people to recover from this tragedy.

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.